Thoughts on Tisha B’Av

I hope you will forgive me if this post is not so into homeschooling like I would usually write.

I don’t do well with fasts usually, I think the big reason is because I have children and I have to move around.  My boys are, B”H, all getting bigger, and I was able to rest in bed most of the morning. With some migraine medicine I am still very functional, slow, but functional and for that I’m very thankful.

As I am typing, I have approximately 1.5 hours left of the fast.  Yesterday I went to a little learning group and as we were leaving, we were discussing that really is not that we should all have easy fasts (though we hope we all do,) it is that we should all have a purposeful fast.  All day today I tried to figure out how to have a purposeful fast.  What is the meaning of today, the saddest day in the Jewish calendar?  Of course there are the physical things we do such as not eating or drinking for 25 hours, sitting on low stools for half the day, not wearing leather and not anointing ourselves, but these are only for the outside, the physical body, what about the spiritual part of our body, our souls?  What are we suppose to do for that?

So, the big question is – what happened to cause this day to be such a sad day?  We know that there have been so many calamities that happened on this day – both the first and second Bait Hamikdash were destroyed, the expulsion of the Jews from England in 1290, the Inquisition of Spain in 1492, World War I was declared, and many others (see Ohr Samayah).  Why?  Why on this particular day?

We know over 2000 years ago, Hashem had just taken us out of Egypt with 10 amazing plagues, He split the sea for us to cross, gave us heavenly food to eat and we had just received the Torah.  We were poised and ready to enter the promised land, the land flowing with milk and honey.  But even after all of this, we were not sure.  Was it really a land flowing with milk and honey?  Could we REALLY believe Hashem?  Huh?  After all that we still doubted Hashem?  It is true.  We wanted to send spies to the promised land to verify what Hashem really said was true.  Hashem let us.  Twelve spies were sent to scope the land and then come and relate a report to the rest of us.  Then, a terrible thing happened. Ten of the spies told a negative report.  They spoke lashon hara.  Not only that, we believed the lashon hara and we spend the entire night crying.  Crying for nothing.

Hashem then told us that since we cried for nothing that night, the night of Tisha B’Av, that would be a day where we would cry for something.  Wow!  Hashem was being so cruel you may say.  Just because we cried, Hashem made this day to be full of terrible calamity for us.  Isn’t Hashem suppose to be loving and kind and caring?  This does not sound like a loving and kind and caring Hashem!

Let us take a look at the report that the spies brought back.  Yes, they said the land was indeed flowing with milk and honey and the huge fruits they brought back showed that.  However, there were also giants that lived in the land.  The spies said “בְעֵינֵינוּ כַּחֲגָבִים וְכֵן הָיִינוּ בְּעֵינֵיהֶם” (Bamidbar/Number 23:33) – “…In our eyes, we seemed like grasshoppers, and so we were in their eyes.”  Meaning, we FELT like grasshoppers so they must have thought we were.  The giants never said they thought we were, but we thought so, therefore we must be.  Grasshoppers cannot defeat giants.  We gave up before we even tried!

Who are we to say what we are capable or not capable of achieving without even trying?  We did not believe Hashem – the All Knowing, the One who created each one of us, the One who knows better than we what we are capable of, the One who performed all those miracles – and instead, we believed the lashon hara spoken.  It turns out it was a punishment that we brought upon ourselves.  It was us who turned this day into a day of mourning.

My older boys have been kvetching about each other all week.  Someone is always seemingly hurting another, and it is obviously always on purpose.  Obviously… to them, but not to me.  I finally sat them down and told them (again) the story of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza.  In short, a wealthy man had a friend, Kamtza, and an enemy, Bar Kamtza.  This man threw a party and the servant accidentally invited Bar Kamtza.  Bar Kamtza thought this man wanted to make up with him and went to the party, only to find out that it was all a mistake and the host was upset his enemy showed up.  After repeated attempts by Bar Kamtza to pay for part, half and then all of the party just so he would not feel embarrassed about being thrown out, his pleas were refused.  Not a single rabbi or guest at the party said anything to help alleviate the anger and tension between the two men.  In the end, Bar Kamtza set up a trick to get the Caesar upset with the Jews.  Not only did the Caesar get upset, but he destroyed the Bais Hamikdash. (See a more complete story here.)

We sat and talked about what that all means – to have strife amongst people, to always feel that people are out to get you.  What does that kind of thinking bring you?  The destruction of the Bais Hamikdash.  When we have strife with others, we are thinking only of ourselves and not anyone else.  We talked about how lucky they were to be able to become close friends with each other.  Most siblings are friends with peers, but not their siblings.  Friends will come and go, but siblings will always be there, no matter where everyone lives.  Baruch Hashem, my sister and I are very close, however, that only happened after we were both married. My boys have the opportunity to create an even greater bond by starting out loving each other now.  If I hand someone a stick, they will be able to break it very easily, however, if I give them 20 sticks in a bundle, they will most likely not be able to break it.  The same goes for brothers and sisters who are close and care for each other.  When we are all united, we cannot be broken.

Okay, so they understand that they need to love each other and help each other, but what really does that mean?  That means they need to start giving each other the benefit of the doubt.  Instead of coming to me crying every time someone touches them so that they can tell me what the other person did and get that person into trouble, it means they need to believe that people are not out to get them.  When someone touches them, or hurts them, they need to believe that person did not purposely mean to hurt them.  Perhaps the person did not know they were there, perhaps the person was just wanting to get their attention and did not realized what they did hurt.  It also could be that you got them angry and they reacted.

Whatever the case is, if we can have a more positive outlook at everyone – giving them the benefit of the doubt, that will prevent strife and help create love for others.  When we have love for each other we are united and hard to break – just like the bundle of sticks.  As this fast is coming to a close (just a couple more minutes over here – and yes, it has taken me that long to write and cuddle kids, and send them to bed!) let us take a few moments and reflect on our lives.  How is it that *I* can create less strife?  Who am I angry with and how can I resolve the conflict?  Are they really out to get me, or am I taking things out of context?  Should I be giving anyone the benefit of the doubt?  How can I create more ahavas yisroel (literally: love of Israel – more love for each Jew)?

When we are united we are no longer thinking just about ourselves, we are watching out for the entire Jewish nation.  We are also more careful to not speak lashon hara.  It is up to each one of us.  You may be thinking this is a hard and unimaginable task, however, remember not to quit before you try.  We *CAN* do it, we just have to try.  Let us not cry for no reason any more.  Let us trust in Hashem that we really can.  It is at this time Hashem will bring Moshiach, the third and final Bais Hamikdash and the final redemption, speedily in our days.

Vacationing in the Boonies

For one whole week we spent a wonderful time up in a cabin, on the top of a mountain, on 350 acres.  It was one of the best weeks we have ever had.  Grandpa came with us as well.  It was a nice cabin, with several acres of mowed grass around it, many more acres of unmowed grass  – the size of a landing strip for a plane, which, on occasion does land there, and hundreds of acres of just forest.  I think the only thing we would try to do different is to take more opportunity to explore the gorgeous forest and not wait until the second last day.

Since the cabin was a long ways away from any electric lines, the owners decided it would be to their economic advantage to install solar panels and have a backup generator instead of having to pay for the electric line ($40,000 vs. $80,000!)  That was to our advantage for several times we got to fly our new kite.  Unfortunately, only one new kite was able to be flown for there was not enough wind for the other two, but we had a lot of fun sharing.  When you get the kite up several hundred feet, you just need to sit there holding the string, the kite flies by itself for there is a lot of wind up there.

Monday we went exploring in the van.  We found out this week that one cannot always trust a map.  We had two different (both detailed with contour lines, etc.) maps, and they both showed a road going into a state forest.  However, when we arrived at the state forest, no road!  The GPS on the phone said there was no road, and the road sign said it was a dead end.  We know from experience that GPS’s are not always reliable either, and normally we just use them to see where we are.  We decided to take the only other possible road, which turned to the side.  We thought that might be the state forest for there was gate there and sometimes state forests and parks have gates.  We opened the gate and drove on.  Well, the road was not conducive to vans, but we drove on.  At one point we decided to turn around for it did not really look like a state forest road and then got stuck!  After walking around we noticed a house not too far in front of us and figured we were not on a state road, but how to get out?  Lots of man power, and B”H we had as many people as we did for even one less person and I don’t think we would have made it.  Lesson learned:  Trust road signs.

As we were making our way back home, trying hard to stay on the real road, we come across signs that state it was a real road, but that the bridge was closed 1000 feet ahead. Grandpa wanted us to stop, for the bridge was closed – read the sign!  So, we did, and most of us got out and walked the 1000 or so feet…… only to come to another sign, for cars coming the opposite direction that said….. bridge closed 1000 feet…. Uh, well, we just walked right on through and there was nothing wrong with the road.  Lesson learned: Can’t always trust the road signs!

Tuesday we went touring the Amish region.  It was interesting to see that people really do live a life almost identical to life 100 years ago.  We saw the horse and buggies (though that is nothing new for us where we live, but still neat to see it anyways,) wheat that was cut and stacked in the fields – 7 bundles to a stack, men plowing, men cutting up wood into boards and all the wood craft and quilt shops.  We stopped in a wooden toy shop and a couple of boys bought something there.

Wednesday was a trip on a steam engine!  TOOT TOOT!  Look at all that black smoke coming out of the top!  It was a nice, relaxing time for me.  3 boys wanted to sit with Grandpa, and that left me with just 1 and it was the perfect time of day for on the way back that 1 boy just wanted to lay there almost falling asleep. 🙂

Thursday we did some geocaching.  We found most of them.  We actually did a bit of geocaching the entire week, but this afternoon was dedicated mostly to it.  We also learned that not all state forest roads are maintained.  We came across one that had a fallen tree in the middle of it.  All 5 big boys went out to try to move it.  Unfortunately it was just too long, however, DH being adventurous as he was, decided we took enough of the top away that he could drive around it, over the mud hole, and that is just what he did.  However, he was smart enough to know that we had to find a different route out of the park 🙂

Friday it rained, and the boys ate popcorn and watched a few National Geographic DVD’s about pirates!  Challah and cinnamon buns filled the air Erev Shabbos, as well as the lack of electricity (B”H the oven was gas and still worked!)  To their credit, the owner showed up within minutes and got the generator started (it was supposed to start automatically when the solar energy ran out but didn’t.)  DH spent time doing orienteering work with the boys.  They learned how to read the map, and the contour lines on a map, along with other compassing work.

The rain was a nice welcome, for Shabbos was nice and cool.  We had all the windows open (like we had all week), but we did not need to  have any fans going, so Shabbos morning we woke up to the sounds of birds…and quiet.  It was so peaceful!  We made our first trek into the 300+ acres of forest and saw butterflies and moths and bumblebees and even a snake!  DH and I walked around the whole grassed area.  It was pretty cool to be at one end and look back at the cabin – yellow flowers all over the grass, I just about ran right through pretending to be Laura Ingalls in the show from Little House on the Prairie.  🙂

Sunday morning, the sun got up early, and so did I.  I spent most of the morning packing up.  We decided to walk down a path to a road and since Grandpa did not want to walk with us, he got to pick us up.  Such a beautiful trek – about half of the walk was done solely on property we rented, and most of the rest was in what seemed an “alley” between properties.  GPS was great this time!

On the way out, we stopped off at a Scandinavian festival outside of Jamestown, NY and got pictures of a life size replica of a Viking ship (a small one, more of a fishing boat – not the size of one crossing an ocean).  We ending up in Niagra Falls for pizza for supper and finally made our way back home.  All in all, we had a good time, and have lots of nice memories!  We even got to finish off Grandpa’s visit with a birthday supper for my now 3 year old.  Happy Birthday MA!

I was mistaken!

As I was pondering on the last post I did, I bumped into some information on the latest physics find on the Higgs boson particle.  I like physics.  My minor in university was physics.  That thought of physics reminded me about a picture that my husband took of me during our 10th anniversary trip to Wales.  We were walking around an old castle and I sat down in the middle of the courtyard, under, yes you guessed it, an apple tree!  The funny thing is that as I sat down, waiting for my husband to take the picture, an apple fell down.  Yes, Newton’s law of gravity works even in Wales!  So, yes, I have sat under an apple tree before and pondered and yes, another picture had to be taken with the said apple, and yes, it was delicious. 😀

On another note, I’m very actively working on next year’s stuff.  For some boys, I have basically all the materials, for another, I have decided that I need to do an interim year before he is ready to move up.  And for another, I have come to the conclusion that even though he will have just turned 3, he needs to have his “schooling” as well (whatever that means, and most likely it means more Mommy-Son time, reading a story here, playing a puzzle there – and calling it “school”.)

As I look back on the previous year and see what worked and what did not, the main thing that stuck out that REALLY helped was a schedule that was written down.  Having it memorized did not cut i; we had to have it in front of us so we could see it.  The only problem with that is all the papers!  I had printed off a schedule for each of the 3 older boys, and one main one for me, but the boys never knew where their schedule was, and the main one was sometimes very hard to find as well.  (I found it today cleaning – lost it the last 2 months of school, but it was right there where we usually kept it!)

I got an idea from a post that I read recently, that I had seen before, but it never clicked really well for it entailed printing out a whole year’s worth of stuff – and hoping I would not lose the binder in the meantime!  However, I finally figured out how to make it work.

I just ordered 4 – 11×14 white boards – one for each boy.  The idea is that I will write the schedule in permanent marker for each boy on their board and then post them on the living room wall.  Then, each boy can check off what they have accomplished as it happens or at the end of the day.  On Friday, if there is anything we missed, they can finish it for we do mainly a 4 day weekly schedule.  Afterwards, they can erase the board and it is ready for the next week.

I have also realized that I am the kind of person that needs to have everything ready at the beginning of the year.  None of this “I’ll print off 2-3 months’ worth of work at a time,” for after the 2-3 months I never seem to find the time to print it off, and we are always trying to work around that,  and printing it off is many times cheaper than buying a used book. (Note: We use books that are out of copyright and are usually available for free on the internet.)  I have also found out that many times (not always, just many,) I can print 2 pages on one page, double-sided, therefore saving some ink (for the font and pictures are then shrunk) and half the paper!  Most of the time I just use our b/w printer, however, if things are easy, I might print a picture or two from the book in color to spice it up a bit and make boys happy.   *Note: Make sure you test out a page first before doing a whole book.  You don’t want to find after printing it all out that the print is almost too small to be read, even by you.

I am very happy with how things are going.  I have had to rearrange some of my thinking a little bit.  For example, I know that I will probably have to purchase more ink before the summer is over, but I also know that the new ink will last me the entire year.  I also have other ideas on how to rearrange our school cabinet to make things better and easier for all of us.  I think these few changes will make the difference for next year.  I guess I will just have to wait and see.  Next summer I will assess it and go from there.

Imagining an Apple Tree…

Imagine sitting underneath an apple tree, with the limbs and all the green hanging down all around you.  Imagine finding a wonderful limb that you could sit on, pretending to go galloping up a mountain and reaching the very top.  Or, perhaps you would like to imagine bringing out your dolls and sitting inside your house of limbs with all sorts of interesting shaped rooms.

We never had apple trees when I was growing up.  I never went to an apple orchard until shortly after I got married, and then it was only once.  I have visited an orchard a few times over the last few years, but never had the luxury to sit underneath one.  However, I can imagine how it would be to be a little smaller and enjoying the shade of the trees.  I think the next time I go apple picking I will sit down underneath one of the trees and just imagine…

Why is it that I can imagine something that I have never done?  It is easy if you have a living book to read from.  A living book is a book that is written by a person who is extremely knowledgeable in the topic.  Normally these authors love the topic they are writing about and it shows in their writing.  The nice thing about AO is that they use living books.  I do not know about you, but I have always found textbooks to be very dry and hard to learn from usually.  With living books, I learn.

It is easy to learn when the author writes as though they are talking directly to you, in person.  I read to my boys (all 5 of them tonight!) about the orchard.  We learned that the apple blossom blooms only in May, and learned to wonder how an apple could come from those blossoms, after all, not everyone wonders but it is good to wonder.  We learned that the apple blossom has 5 petals and in the center it looks like there are pins in a mini pin cushion!  There is what looks like dust on the head of the “pins” and so we are calling them dust boxes right now, until the author tells us the real name. 🙂  Did you know if you took off the petals, you will be left with 5 green “leaves” and little pins with no dust boxes on them!  After the petals fall from the flower, a knob grows on the other side, and that, my readers, is the beginning of an apple!

Now, reading from a living book is wonderful, but it is no match for seeing it in person.  We do not have an apple tree in our yard, and since it is July, we would not have any blossoms on it anyways.  However, we do have rose bushes. What do rose bushes and apple trees have in common? (Well, I read ahead so I know!)  Let me tell you what I did after supper.  I took all the boys out to our rose bushes (the one we went to is an Alberta Rose bush variety.  Now are you getting the idea?)  Our roses have just finished flowering and the flowers are in the process of falling off.   Yes, the blossoms look similar.  We did not see the dust boxes on these roses for the flowers were shriveling up to die, but perhaps I’ll still find a flower in bloom tomorrow if I look on one of the other plants.  I did take my youngest over to the lilies that were blooming and see the dust boxes on them.  I even got him to use just one finger to touch the pin heads instead of pinching them with finger and thumb.  We both loved looking at the yellow dust on our fingers!

We each had the thrill of pulling off the petals and seeing the 5 “leaves” and the pins with no dust boxes.  Now, we looked underneath the flower, and voila! There we saw the knob!  Looking further around the bush shows knobs that were ripe and ready to pick and eat.  Wow!  It is amazing how much the rose bush and the apple tree have in common.  The nice thing about the rose bush is that we were able to see all facets of the plant growing at the same time, unlike the apple tree. (By the way, the rose fruit is called Rose Hip and is edible!)

We were very lucky today.  We cannot always finish a nice learning with actual testing of the reading, and I took full advantage of it.  Sometimes we can do part testing – for example, I first took my youngest to the lilies and that would have been wonderful in itself without being able to see the rest that we were talking about.

I believe it is very important that children – and adults alike – get to make these wonderful connections.  It brings all the things we learn to life and ingrains it inside of us – just like when we took the boys to see handmade replicas of Columbus’ two ships the Nina and the Pinta this past weekend!

The awe and warm fuzzy feeling that even I felt tonight as I went and picked the petals and saw the inside with the pins with no dust boxes is something I will most likely remember.  Even though this was a rose bush, I remember seeing pictures of apple blossoms and it was just as wonderful with the rose bush as if it was an apple tree.  If I am ever able to visit a blooming apple tree, you will be certain that I will put my finger gently on the pins with the dust boxes!